Former Congressmember Criticizes Biden’s Bombing of Syria

March 9th, 2021 - by Aaron Maté / The Greyzone & Al Jazeera & Kim Hjelmgaard / USA TODAY

Tulsi Gabbard Calls Out Biden on Washington’s Dirty War on Syria

Aaron Maté / PushBack @ The Greyzone

(March 5, 2021) — While Joe Biden has faced some mild Congressional pushback for bombing the Iraq-Syria border, Tulsi Gabbard says her former colleagues are ignoring the larger issue: the ongoing US dirty war on Syria.

After a decade of proxy warfare that empowered Al Qaeda and ISIS, the US is now occupying one-third of Syria and imposing crippling sanctions that are crushing Syria’s economy and preventing reconstruction. 

While Gabbard has been vilified for her stance on Syria, many top White House officials — including Joe Biden himself — have already acknowledged the same facts that she has called out. Aaron Maté plays clips of Biden and some of his most senior aides admitting to the horrific realities of the US dirty war on Syria, and argues that Gabbard only stands apart in being wiling to criticize it. 

Featuring video clips from: Tulsi Gabbard, former Democratic Congressmember; President Joe Biden; Brett McGurk, National Security Council coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa; Martin Dempsey, former Joint Chiefs chairman; Rob Malley, Special Envoy for Iran; John Kerry, Special Envoy for Climate & former Secretary of State; former President Donald Trump; Alena Douhan, UN Special Rapporteur on Sanctions; Dana Stroul, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Middle East; Vice President Kamala Harris.

First US Military Action under Biden Draws Criticism

Al Jazeera

(February 26, 2021) — US President Joe Biden’s authorisation of military air raids in eastern Syria on Thursday has drawn criticism in the Middle East.

The United States military said it carried out measured attacks on facilities in eastern Syria used by Iran-backed militias, in response to rocket attacks against US targets in Iraq.

The air raids were “deliberate” and aimed to “de-escalate the overall situation in both eastern Syria and Iraq”, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said in a statement.

‘Same as Trump’

Some commentators said there was a clear effort to draw a distinction between Biden and his predecessor Donald Trump, who in response to attacks on coalition forces in Iraq used “the most disproportionate force by killing the Iranian general (Qassem) Soleimani”, said Al Jazeera’s Shihab Rattansi in Washington, DC.

Seyyed Mohammad Marandi, a professor of English literature and orientalism at the University of Tehran said the move showed how Biden and Trump are the same.

Syria said the air raids were a cowardly act and urged Biden not to follow “the law of the jungle”.

“Syria condemns in the strongest terms the cowardly US attack on areas in Deir al-Zor near the Syrian-Iraqi border,” the Syrian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

“It (the Biden administration) is supposed to stick to international legitimacy, not to the law of the jungle as (did) the previous administration.”

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said the air strikes were “illegal aggression” and a violation of human rights and international law, Iran’s state media reported.

Iran’s foreign ministry announced on Saturday that Khatibzadeh travelled to Syria shortly after the airstrikes and met with a host of officials, including Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad and senior presidential advisor Bouthaina Shaaban.

Khatibzadeh told Syrian officials Iran will continue to stand with the country’s government and people, according to the foreign ministry.

None of the statements released by the foreign ministry mention Iran-backed assets being hit in Syria.

US journalist Ayman Moyeldin drew a timeline to show similarities between Biden’s move and several former US presidents.

The US has long been criticised for military intervention in several Muslim-majority countries such as Iraq and Libya and imposing regime change leading to political chaos and instability.

‘Not De-escalatory’

In the US, the move was also met with condemnation.

Hillary Mann Leverett, CEO of the political risk consultancy Stratega, said while the air raids sent a message about the Biden administration’s loyalties in the region, they would not diffuse the situation in the Middle East.

“The Biden administration is trying to portray this first military attack as measured in consultation with allies. But this won’t de-escalate anything.

“In fact, it signals very strongly a message to Iran that … the Biden administration is in fact trying to increase its pressure and leverage against Iran.”

The rocket attacks on US positions in Iraq were carried out as Washington and Tehran are looking for a way to return to the 2015 nuclear deal abandoned by former US President Trump.

It was not clear how, or whether, the raid might affect US efforts to coax Iran back into a negotiation about both sides resuming compliance with the agreement.

Mary Ellen O’Connell, a professor at Notre Dame Law School, criticised the US attack as a violation of international law.

“The United Nations Charter makes absolutely clear that the use of military force on the territory of a foreign sovereign state is lawful only in response to an armed attack on the defending state for which the target state is responsible,” she said. “None of those elements is met in the Syria strike.”

Justin Amash, a US lawyer who formerly served as the representative for Michigan’s 3rd congressional district said the move was unconstitutional.

 ‘Necessary Deterrent’

Still, some observers showed support for the air raids.

Representative Michael McCaul, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said the attacks were the right move.

“Responses like this are a necessary deterrent and remind Iran, its proxies, and our adversaries around the world that attacks on US interests will not be tolerated,” McCaul said.

Suzanne Maloney, of the Brookings Institution think-tank, said the attacks showed the Biden administration could negotiate with Iran on the nuclear deal while pushing back against the militias it backed.

“Good move by… Biden (administration) demonstrating US can walk and chew gum at the same time,” she said on Twitter.

In the February 15 attack, rockets hit the US military base housed at Erbil International Airport in the Kurdish-run region, killing a non-American contractor and injuring a number of American contractors and a US service member.

Another salvo struck a base hosting US forces north of Baghdad days later, hurting at least one contractor.

Rockets hit Baghdad’s Green Zone on Monday, which houses the US embassy and other diplomatic missions.

Earlier this week, the Kata’ib Hezbollah group, one of the main Iran-aligned Iraqi militia groups, denied any role in the rocket attacks.

Biden’s Syria Airstrikes Test US Role as World’s Policeman

Kim Hjelmgaard / USA TODAY

(February 27, 2021) — Pentagon airstrikes against Iran-backed militias in Syria are not only the first military action taken by President Joe Biden. They are a test of his broad pledge to pursue a foreign policy that is more cooperative and mindful of international partners than his predecessor’s but still eschews the US role as the world’s police to focus on making life better for Americans, some experts and lawmakers say.

Biden on Thursday night ordered the airstrikes on multiple facilities at a Syrian-Iraqi border control point in southeastern Syria in retaliation for rocket attacks on US targets in neighboring Iraq. The Pentagon identified the targets as a “number of Iranian-backed militant groups including Kataib Hezbollah and Kataib Sayyid al-Shuhada.” It called the airstrikes “proportionate” and “defensive” and said the airstrikes were taken after consultation with coalition partners and unspecified “diplomatic measures.”

The military action comes as Washington and Tehran are locked in apparent stalemate over who should take the first step to revitalize a nuclear deal exited by the Trump administration; as Biden has vowed to recalibrate national security actions to favor the middle class; and as reporting from USA TODAY has revealed the voluminous scale of US overseas military bases and counterterror operations two decades after 9/11

“We are concerned that President Biden’s first instinct when it comes to regional security in the Middle East appears to be to reach for military options instead of diplomacy,” said Ryan Costello, director of The National Iranian American Council, an organization that seeks improved relations between Washington and Tehran.

“Biden wanted to respond to the incident in Iraq,” said Max Abrahms, a professor of political science and public policy at Northeastern University, “but he wanted to do it in a way that didn’t seem too heavy-handed … the more fundamental question that needs to be asked, and isn’t, is what are Iranian militias doing in Iraq? The answer is they are there partly because the US toppled (Iraq’s former president) Saddam Hussein.”

Abrahms said that the Biden administration is trying to balance the instincts of veteran national security officials and diplomats such as Secretary of State Antony Blinken – Obama administration-era officials who have long gravitated toward military interventions and regime change from Syria to Venezuela – with “the zeitgeist of the American citizenry, which has moved over the course of the Trump administration.”

He described this “zeitgeist,” which is backed up by polling, that shows many Americans are most concerned about economic and security threats closer to home, as “a more limited role for the United States in the world, a greater delineation of where our vital interests lie and a skepticism of a democracy-promoting agenda.”

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told reporters he was “confident in the target we went after. We know what we hit.”

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a London-based monitoring group, said the airstrikes killed at least 22 pro-Iranian fighters, wounded many more and destroyed several trucks carrying munitions. Some Iranian media reported a similar death toll, although they did not cite the source of their information. 

Earlier this month, a civilian contractor from the Philippines working with the US-led military coalition in Iraq was killed in a rocket attack on US targets. Several others were wounded in that assault, including a National Guard solider and four American civilian contractors. Iran denies any involvement or ties to the Feb. 15 assault near Erbil. 

A little-known Shiite militant group calling itself Saraya Awliya al-Dam, Arabic for Guardians of Blood Brigade, claimed responsibility. 

Iranian-backed Shiite militia groups have been responsible for numerous rocket attacks that have targeted US personnel or facilities in Iraq. The December 2019 killing of a US civilian contractor in a rocket attack in Kirkuk sparked a tit-for-tat fight on Iraqi soil that brought the US to the brink of a war with Iran. The Pentagon later assassinated senior Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani.

The US has about 2,500 troops stationed in Iraq.

Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., said in a statement that the “American people deserve to hear the administration’s rationale for these strikes and its legal justification for acting without coming to Congress. Offensive military action without congressional approval is not constitutional absent extraordinary circumstances.”

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the Defense Department briefed congressional leadership before the airstrikes and that there will be a full classified briefing next week. She called the action “pursuant to [the president’s] Article II authority to defend US personnel.”

“The targets were chosen to correspond to the recent attacks on facilities and to deter the risk of additional attacks over the coming weeks,” she said Friday. “As a matter of international law, the United States acted pursuant to a threat of self-defense as reflected in Article 51 of the UN Charter. The strikes were both necessary to address the threat and were proportionate to the prior attacks.”

Rep. Ro Khanna, a California Democrat who sits on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told CNN that Biden’s airstrikes marked the fifth consecutive time a US president has ordered such strikes against targets in the Middle East. 

“There is absolutely no justification for a president to authorize a military strike that is not in self-defense against an imminent threat without congressional authorization. We need to extricate from the Middle East, not escalate,” Khanna said, noting that it was action taken under the “broad, outdated” Authorization for Use of Military Force law (AUMF).

AUMF is legislation that sprung from President George W. Bush’s “global war on terror” and the invasion of Afghanistan after 9/11. That 2001 authorization has been stretched to target militant groups in Syria, Kenya, Pakistan, Philippines, Somalia and beyond, according to research by Stephanie Savell, a defense and security expert at the Costs of War project at Brown University’s Watson Institute. USA TODAY reported this week, based on Savell’s research, that from 2018 to 2020 the US military was active in counterterrorism operations in 85 countries, either directly or via surrogates, training exercises, drone strikes or low-profile US special operations forces missions. 

“I spoke against endless war with Trump, and I will speak out against it when we have a Democratic President,” Khanna said in his comments to CNN.

Adnan Tabatabai, the founder and CEO of CARPO, a German-based think tank that specializes in issues that affect the Middle East, said in a Twitter post that when “policymakers in #Tehran (and elsewhere) argue that nothing really changes with a new (US president), this is what they mean.” Tabatabai was referring to the airstrikes by successive US administrations that have targeted Iranian interests in Iraq.

However, the action also received some bipartisan support.

“Today’s airstrike demonstrates President Biden’s resolve to prevent Iran from targeting America’s personnel and allies with impunity,” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer. 

Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., said, “The commander-in-chief has a responsibility to protect Americans at home and abroad” and that Biden was “right to respond.”

Jennifer Cafarella, a national security fellow at The Institute for the Study of War, a policy research organization in Washington, argued — also on Twitter — that the airstrikes demonstrated “that the #Biden administration is not wholly overlooking #Iran’s malign & escalatory regional operations” as it finds a way to resume nuclear diplomacy with Iran.

“Much still remains to be seen, but this was a good step,” Cafarella wrote. 

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